Gear Stories With Sylvia Massy: Cockroaches and SM58s

Jun 24, 2010 5:26 PM, By Sylvia Massy


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In order to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, you must be prepared. You must pack the essentials: water, matches and, of course, an SM58. Forget the Swiss Army knife. The Shure SM58 is a hammer, a weapon, a spoon, a pestle, a dildo, a scepter—and a damn good mic on just about everything.

After Armageddon, nothing will be left but cockroaches and SM58s. If you are not getting a signal out of the SM58, don’t blame the mic. These mics are so rugged they rarely fail. The only time an SM58 has ever failed me was when we accidentally blasted one with a shotgun during the recording of Tool’s Undertow album. We had miked up a couple of clunker upright pianos in the back garage at Hollywood’s Grandmaster Recorders, then proceeded to shoot them and smash them apart with sledgehammers and axes while the tape rolled. After recording, we realized that one of our mics had unfortunately been placed in the line of fire. We were in complete disbelief that the SM58 was dead. So inspired and moved by its service, we gave it an honorable burial.

Shure unveiled the SM58 in 1966 to replace the Unidyne 565, a popular mic with a hinged base that screwed securely onto the mic stand. Creating a durable mic that could be easily unclipped and carried onstage revolutionized the performances of first-generation rockers, and the introduction of the new SM58 allowed legendary singers like Roger Daltrey and Mick Jagger to get up-close and personal with their audience. The Who onstage with Daltrey swinging that mic from the end of its cable and Townshend spinning windmills with his guitar became iconic images from the remarkable ’60s rock era, made possible by the SM58.

Silversun Pickups’ Brian Aubert sings into an SM58 in concert

Silversun Pickups’ Brian Aubert sings into an SM58 in concert

The label “SM” in the SM58 and in the name of its streamlined twin, the SM57, stands for Studio Microphone. These two mics are literally identical except for the differences in the grille cover. The SM57 has a small, plastic vented cap, while the SM58 has a large, round steel-mesh cover for durability and to cut plosives and wind noise. There is a slight sonic difference between the two mics because of the shape of the caps, with the SM57 having a more pronounced low-end roll-off. The SM Series is still made today, and Shure also offers supercardioid versions with the Beta Series 57A and 58A. These are all dynamic mics needing no external power supply to operate. The price on the SM Series mics usually runs below a C-note, and because they last forever, they are often found used for half that. They are absolutely the most recognizable and most frequently imitated mics in the world. Are they also the most underappreciated mics in all of studio-dom?

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